In his first game as a starting catcher for the 1962 original Mets, Choo Choo Coleman dared to lead off an inning with a bunt against Bob Gibson.
By having the audacity to challenge the Cardinals’ ace, Coleman played a key role in ending Gibson’s four-game winning streak and snapping the Mets’ 11-game losing streak.
On July 27, 1962, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals, Coleman opened the third inning with a bunt single and scored the lone run in the Mets’ 1-0 victory at St. Louis. Coleman’s battery mate, Al Jackson, who hadn’t earned a win in more than a month, pitched the shutout.
It was the only 1-0 win for the 1962 Mets and one of just four shutout victories for them. Jackson pitched all four.
Coleman, 78, died Aug. 15, 2016, in Orangeburg. S.C. This post is a tribute to him.
Clarence Coleman told an interviewer he got the nickname “Choo Choo” as a boy in his hometown of Orlando because he ran fast like a train.
Small for a catcher at 5 feet 9 and 165 pounds, Coleman entered the big leagues with the 1961 Phillies. He batted .128 for them in 34 games.
The Mets selected Coleman in the National League expansion draft, but assigned him to Class AAA Syracuse before the start of the 1962 season. Wrote The Sporting News: “He didn’t take well to the demotion.”
Coleman batted .195 for Syracuse, but when Mets catcher Sammy Taylor fractured the ring finger on his right hand in July 1962, Coleman was promoted to the big club.
Getting a boost
The Mets had lost 16 of their previous 17 games entering the July 27 doubleheader versus the Cardinals.
Mets manager Casey Stengel, looking to show confidence in Coleman, put him in the starting lineup for the first time. He couldn’t have picked a much tougher opponent than Gibson.
Stengel “is currently embarked upon a psychological campaign designed to instill the big-league attitude into the shy and uncommunicative Choo Choo Coleman,” wrote The Sporting News.
Gibson had limited the Mets to a two-out Felix Mantilla single through the first two innings before Coleman led off the third.
Batting left-handed, Coleman bunted toward third baseman Ken Boyer and raced down the line with a single. Jackson followed with a sacrifice bunt, moving Coleman to second.
Gibson struck out Richie Ashburn for the second out.
The next batter, Rod Kanehl, hit a routine grounder. Shortstop Julio Gotay reached for the ball, but couldn’t come up with it.
Coleman, living up to his nickname, steamed around third base and dashed for home. While Gotay still struggled to field the ball, Coleman streaked across the plate with the unearned run. Boxscore
Stengel also started Coleman in the second game of the doubleheader. Facing Larry Jackson, Coleman produced the first of his two career triples, but the Cardinals won, 6-5.
Coleman played in 55 games for the 1962 Mets and batted .250. Grasping for a positive, The Sporting News said of the diminutive catcher, “Pitchers say he is one of the most adroit receivers of the low delivery.”
In his final two seasons with the Mets, Coleman hit .178 in 1963 and, after two years of exile in the minors, .188 in 1966. His career batting mark in four big-league seasons: .197.
After his playing career, Coleman worked as a cook in a Chinese restaurant in Virginia, according to his obituary in the New York Times. Choo Choo’s chop suey, anyone?
Previously: Cardinals have strong link to original Mets